Last week I asked the provocative question, “Are you a DP or a light putter-upper.” As expected, there was quite a diversity of replies and responses. This week I have another question for you. Are you a director, or are you a camera pointer? Actually, let me change that. I don't want to ask, I want to tell you. Be a director, not just a camera pointer.
I'd like to point out that this is really aimed at those of you who film documentary-style personal, event or commercial videos. So, if you're a feature or short film narrative director, I give you permission to stop reading now and go direct something.
Now, for the rest of you, I implore you. Just because you're filming a set of interviewees who are answering questions, that don't mean you can't be a director (poor grammar used on purpose for effect!) You should still be a director in every sense of the word. Composition. Action. Talent. Don't just make a nice and “safe” rule-of-thirds camera framing, hit record, ask your questions, then stop. Engage with the camera, the environment, and the subjects to create something more intentional. Here are some suggestions on directing…
- Talent. Obviously, I'm using the word “talent” here loosely. In these documentary-style interviews, you're not dealing with actors. You're dealing with real people. That doesn't mean that you can't lead or direct them to answer your questions in a certain way to elicit the answer or emotion you want. If you notice one line of questioning evokes a certain emotion, go with it and do follow up. Don't be so glued to a set of pre-determined questions that you don't leave room to expand. Don't get stuck on “automatic.”
- Camera and Composition. If you need the “safe” shot, get your perfectly framed shot that adheres to the rule of thirds. But if the project warrants or has flexibility for something different, don't be afraid to experiment with a different angle, a tracking shot, or a framed shot with the subject dead center. In some cases, breaking the rule of thirds may creatively work. If you have the budget, shoot simultaneously with a second camera that gets the creative shots.
- Lighting. I'm sure many of you also handle the lighting for your shoots. Regardless, give some direction to your lighting. How can colors, direction of the light, ambient vs. set lighting, etc., affect the look and feel of your shoot? For more on this topic, read my post from last week.
- Editing. On the off chance you do not edit a shoot, don't give up the “vision” of the video. Marty Scorcese may not sit in on all the editing sessions with his long-time editing partner Thelma Schoonmaker, but I have no doubt he has a lot of say on how the finished piece looks.
These are just a few examples of how to be more than just a camera pointer. The overall moral of the story is: just because you're not shooting narrative fiction, doesn't mean you can't shoot a documentary-style video like one.
In my third and final installment, I'll address the question: “Are you a producer, or a cat herder?” The answer. Yes.
Ron Dawson is an award-winning filmmaker and host of the show “Crossing the 180“. As a director, he's been known to hit interview subjects with a paddle to get the emotion he wants. (Not true). He writes about the art and business of filmmaking and photography at DareDreamerMag.com.